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Individual Paper: Sustainability for Inequality? Vancouver’s Sustainability Turn

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How do sustainable city policies reduce social inequality? Mythically associated with abounding natural resources and an inclusive standard of living, Canada is a revealing case to study the impact of sustainability policies on urban populations. The mounting issues of water, food and waste management in the face of climate change are coupled with the soaring economic inequalities through the neoliberal era. Since the World Commission on Environment and Development of the 1980s, the capacity of communities to answer their own needs without compromising future generations has been more urgently put into question (Satterthwaite, 1997). Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan is such an attempt towards complete sustainability. However, despite pressing needs, the “sustainable city” agenda has only begun to be investigated as to its impact on social equality (McKendry, 2016).

In this paper, we will attempt to respond to this critical lacuna through the lens of Urban Political Ecology (Heynen et al., 2006). We will debate how neoliberal economy’s specific groundings in Vancouver’s sustainability project has set the stage for a new map of inequalities joining water, food and waste use, to economic disparities. To do so, we use mainly census data concerning income and housing inequality, and, through the UBC Sustainability research institute, an assessment of sustainability measures’ inclusivity through all neighborhoods. Firstly, we briefly review the essential findings on how sustainable cities favor social equality. Secondly, we discuss the case of Vancouver in the past 15 years, with a methodology that focuses on the differentiation of city spaces (Brenner et al., 2010). Thirdly, we uncover which mechanisms allow for a socially equal sustainability, and those which favor a sustainability for the rich. We will thus supplement Brenner, Peck and Theodore’s (Ibid.) typology of economic spaces under neoliberalism with a measure of their sustainability and elicit the differentiated impact of the city’s green policy through time. Finally, we illustrate how these findings can pave the way for fruitful considerations concerning the overarching mechanisms of social and environmental inequalities in Western cities, and what is more, significant contributions about the nature of this historical climatic turn in city policies (Swyngedouw, 2010).


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 14:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF (209)
Track: Climate Change, Climate and Environmental Justice



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